Seasonal Affective Disorder: Weathering the Storm

Whoever wants to pursue the science of medicine in a direct manner
Must first investigate the seasons of the year and what occurs in them~ Hippocrates

The days are getting shorter and the sun appears to have taken a hiatus behind the thick darkness of rainy cloud cover. The lush green of summer is now withered and brown. The zest of summer fun is now tempered by the chilly temperatures. Cold and damp outside, many individuals may want to take refuge under the warmth of their comforters and curl up for a long nap…that may very well last until March.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

According to Dr. Norman Rosenthal in his book titled, “Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder 4th Edition,” 14 million people in America suffer from seasonality and 14% of these individuals experience a lesser version known as winter blues.

While people of all ages may experience SAD, it is four times more likely to occur in women and it can affect all areas of one’s life.

What are the Symptoms of SAD?

Decreased Energy

SAD has been referred to as an energy crisis. Symptoms include extreme fatigue and lack of motivation. Previously enjoyed activities seem arduous and people describe having to “drag themselves out of bed” each day. Basic daily activities of life such as bathing and dressing become larger than life tasks that seem daunting and insurmountable.

Increase in Carbohydrate Consumption

Many find that consuming simple carbohydrates provides energy. This result was observed in a study conducted by Dr. Rosenthal and his colleagues at NIMH where they offered individuals with SAD and those without SAD high carbohydrate meals and high protein meals and discovered that the people with SAD were energized by the carbohydrates.

However, individuals who did not have SAD described feeling fatigued after eating the carbohydrates. This difference in metabolizing carbohydrates may be related to a decrease in serotonin (a neurotransmitter related to mood function) or an over-production of insulin that appears to occur in people who experience SAD.

Decrease in Sleep

People with SAD experience disruptions in sleep patterns. They may sleep longer and have greater difficulty rising. This results in tardiness to work or school. Further, individuals with SAD do not feel rested even after a long night’s sleep.

Decreased Sex Drive

Individuals with SAD describe feeling a lack of interest in sexual intimacy or physical touch in general. This situation may be met with feelings of rejection by the person’s partner and may cause conflict in the relationship. Most people with SAD report that they just want to be left alone during this time.

Cognitive Challenges

John Doherty found in his study that examined cognitive changes during an episode of SAD, that there is a decrease in concentration, productivity, interest, creativity and overall difficulty in completing tasks. These changes were validated in a study by Connie Duncan at NIMH, who observed changes in brain-wave patterns of people with SAD. However, these patterns appeared to subside with light therapy or change in the season.

Mood Disturbance

People report a significant change in mood with SAD. They describe feeling more depressed or anxious. It often results in a negative feedback loop that includes the person feeling “worthless” or “unlovable” and behaving in ways that alienate her from others resulting in isolation. This perpetuates the belief that she is unlovable. These feedback loops can be detrimental to personal and work relationships.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Weathering the Storm

Cheryl Fisher, PhD.,NCC, LCPC

Dr. Fisher is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland. She is a visiting full-time faculty member at Loyola University Maryland in the Pastoral Counseling Department. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is currently working on a book titled, “Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically-Based Organic Practices” of which this article is an excerpt. She may be contacted at [email protected]


APA Reference
Fisher, C. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: Weathering the Storm. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Oct 2015
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